Eugene Laverty is returning to the World Superbike championship with his sights very much set on the world crown, after it was confirmed that he will line up aboard the SMR factory backed Aprilia RSV4 in 2017, a deal which the Northern Irishman described as “like going home.”
Back with the factory that carried him to ten World Superbike wins, Laverty will line up alongside Lorenzo Savadori in a Milwaukee-backed Shaun Muir Racing team, a structure that the 30-year old believes is “capable of winning titles.”
What's more, Aprilia will once again provide factory support for its World Superbike operation, meaning Laverty will work with technicians he knows from his previous time with the Noale marque.
Having weighed up moves to stay in MotoGP aboard a two-year old machine, and race in World Superbike with other manufacturers, Laverty eventually settled on the Aprilia deal, which will also include opportunities to test the factory's MotoGP machine.
Speaking to Crash.net
, Laverty explained, “Every year I've always weighed up the two, whatever's the strongest option. It's not about the prestige of one or the other. I'm going to World Superbike on one of the best bikes to fight for a world title. That's the clear objective.
“When I first rode the Aprilia in 2012 it was a difficult year,” said the Toomebridge rider. “2013 they made some big progress with the bike. I always wanted that third year because I think that's what it takes if you want to win a world title on a bike that was pretty raw back then.
“So going back there, definitely the aim is to win a world title because I've finished runner-up in Supersport twice, runner-up in Superbike as well. Every one of them went down to the last round, so I've always been pretty close.
“It's nice because I know a lot of the guys there from when I was at Aprilia in the past. It's going to be a strong package I think. Even last year it was semi-factory involvement and Leon Haslam won a few races.
“This year is the first year really if you look at it in 20 years where Aprilia hasn't been winning races at the world championship level, so that's the idea: to get that race winning pedigree back. I'm really keen because it's important to have the team structure.
“It's a factory-backed team but it needs to be a strong team as we well know. So I don't think there's many better than SMR. They've have won titles in BSB with two different manufacturers. So it shows that they've got the structure capable of winning titles.”
Brother Michael worked with Muir's team under its Swan Yamaha guise in the British Superbike series in 2011, and Eugene pinpointed the team boss' eagerness in recruiting him as a factor in signing for the team.
“I've known Shaun a lot of years. Michael raced for them in 2011. So they finally moved to World Superbike this year. They talked about it for a lot of years, and I think the probably should have come sooner because they were more than capable. They're one of the most professional teams.
“It shows, their eagerness to win where they switched manufacturer now because they know they need a race winning bike. Shaun was very eager to get me on board as well. [I'm] Keen to get going. It's nice to be back in a British team as well. That's always good because they've got the same mentality.”
With Aprilia announcing its comeback, and Honda promising a new updated Fireblade for 2017, Laverty's return also coincides with that of ex-rival Marco Melandri, while former Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl also moves across.
Add that trio to the series' proven names, and Laverty feels the World Superbike series will have an even greater depth when compared to previous seasons.
“Last year it was lacking a little bit in depth. Now there are a lot of riders coming to the fore and there's going to be more manufacturers are going to be stronger. Some of the other factories are stepping up their support as well to chase down Kawasaki, because they've had the run of the mill for a lot of years now, especially since Johnny [Rea] has arrived
“Johnny's just getting stronger and stronger. Now with me going back there, Bradl, and Nicky there, two great riders… The Honda maybe isn't the best bike out there but them two guys will make up for that. I think it's good times for Superbike and what it needs is a lot of great riders coming across.”
While unable to secure equal machinery to the incoming Alvaro Bautista in Jorge Martinez Aspar's satellite Ducati squad for 2017, Laverty nonetheless feels the two years served in the premier class have aided his development as a rider.
“But I think I'm a stronger rider for having come here [to MotoGP] for these two years. You ride the below par bike harder than you would if you were fighting for race wins consistently. I'm always searching for that 1% really because that's what I've got, so I've got to look within myself. It's probably made me a better rider, so it's been worthwhile for sure.”